Monday, March 9, 2009

Class Reunion (1982)

AKA National Lampoon's Class Reunion
Directed by Michael Miller
Starring Gerrit Graham, Michael Lerner, Misty Rowe
Rated R

"Didn't you used to be crippled?"

When we first started this project, one of my co-author Paul's strict rules was no John Hughes movies. I see his point. Hughes essentially stole the teen sex comedy template and reformatted it to fit PG-rated mainstream sensibilities. Hughes either wrote or wrote/directed a fistful of these pastel-colored, watered-down teen-coms (Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty in Pink, etc.) and they made bazillions, while eager-to-sleaze shlock-hounds like Ed Hansen and Rafal Zeilinski made do with down on their luck strippers and one-location shoots. And yes, he's made some seriously treacle-y dreck in his time - just try sitting through She's Having a Baby without screaming - but I still have to commend him for at least two films (Three, if you count the original Vacation): the hilarious and boner-popping Weird Science (1985), and this loony piece of work.

Class Reunion was John Hughes' first Hollywood writing gig, and it's much different from any of his other films. It's an odd genre mash-up that's half slasher flick and half college gross-out comedy, an anything-goes cross between Animal House and Rocky Horror filled with some seriously dark humor, memorable characters, and gruesome deaths. It even opens, in grand slasher tradition, with a prologue.

The Lizzie Borden High class of '72 is celebrating graduation at a bonfire-burning beach party, when everybody's favorite asshole Bob Spinnaker (Gerrit Graham) decides to prank the class wimp, Walter (the awesomely named Blackie Dammet). Bob tells Walt that hot-girl Meredith is waiting in her car to give ol' Walt a handjob. Only snag is, she's very shy, so they'll both have to wear bags on their heads. Walt goes along with it, and things are going pretty well until, mid-stroke, Bob yanks off the paper bags. Not only is the entire class watching them, but it's not Meredith at all, it's....

Well, that part we don't get to see. Instead, we flash forward 10 years to the class reunion, where we catch up with all the wacky characters from Lizzie Borden high. There's the crazy-eyed crippled-girl, Dolores (Zane Husby), now walking just fine, thanks to a deal with the devil. Go-to 80's fat maniac Stephen Furst is Hubert, the class-slob gone disco-slimeball. There's Bunny (Miriam Flynn), the uptight chick, Gary (Fred McCarren), the class zero, Iris (squeaky-voiced Mews Small), the horny blind girl, Meredith (Shelley Smith), class fox-turned-actress, Egon (Jim Staahl) , the creepy kid (who also appears to literally be a vampire), Mary (Wendy Goldman), the class slut, Chip and Carl (Barry Diamond and Art Evans), the class stoners, etc.

Your usual motley crew, really. Everybody wanders around for awhile either exchanging insults or hitting on each other. And sometimes they're just fuckin' weird:

"Did you send a naked picture of yourself to a men's magazine?"
"You saw it?"
"I ate it!"

Etc. Then Chuck Berry shows up to duckwalk through a few tunes. The party goes south when one of the classmates gets murdered in a back room, and his body is dumped onto the auditorium stage. Out of seemingly nowhere, Michael Lerner shows up as "Dr Robert Young, from the Hospital for the Criminally Insane". This announcement naturally causes everyone to run screaming for the exits. Ah, but the exits are locked!
"We know a way out!" Announces the woozy Chip, pulling a joint out of his pocket.
"Me and Carl will get real high, and then we'll save everybody. Maybe."

Dr. Young tells the class they he suspects it's Walter, come back for revenge. Apparently Walt went berserk after the beach party prank. He killed his parents with a vacuum cleaner, and spent the ensuing decade locked up in Young's hospital.
The partygoers are confused. It was just a harmless prank, after all.
"Do you know who the girl was?" Asks Dr Young. "Do you?"
"Yeah, it was some tramp from the Catholic high school," Bob says.
"No," the doctor informs him, "It was his own twin sister!"
So you can see how that would damage a guy.

The doctor asks for volunteers to form search parties to find a way out. Conveniently for us, all the main characters raise their hands, and the hunt is on. Walter (if it is Walter), runs around in a Catholic schoolgirl outfit with a bag on his head. He runs into chain-smoking lunch lady Anne Ramsey (RIP), who fights him off with hard-as-rock slabs of pizza, but is no match for the madman when he starts swinging a chainsaw around. Her dismembered corpse is discovered in the oven some time later, when Carl and Chip, suffering from a terrible case of the munchies, stumble into the kitchen, looking for food.
"Let's find some roast beef," suggests Chip.
"What about some roast old lady?" Asks Carl, when he opens the oven.

The increasingly Scooby Doo-ish gang skulk around the corridors and classrooms of the school, trying to find their way out. Occasionally, one of the men stops to have sex with the blind/deaf chick. Also occasionally, Bag-man shows up to bash somebody's skull in with a hammer. Oh, and Dolores belches fire at one point. She did, after all, warn everybody that she'd sold her soul to the devil.

The rest of the class huddle in the auditorium and wait to get saved. The popular girls put on a show. No word of where the fuck Chuck Berry is in all of this. Then they play Bingo. Dr Young decides the only way to draw Walt out is to use Meredith as bait.
"Don't worry about a thing," he tells her. "I know Walter intimately."
"Really?" She asks. "Well then, didn't you know he was going to kill Milt?"
"So why didn't you try to stop him?"
"I couldn't find a parking spot."

If you're at all up on slasher themes, than you may have already figured the end out. Suffice to say, there's at least one twist. Possibly several.

Former Hee-Haw girl Misty Rowe flashes some quick side boob during a playful sex romp, but for the most part, Class Reunion is pretty much nudity-free. Luckily, it's funny and weird enough to get along without any significant skin. Endlessly quotable ("I think we ought to go back and die with the others"), and loaded with funny sight-gags (there's two varieties of canned food in the cafeteria kitchen: 'Powered Shit' and 'Creamed Shit'), it's pretty astonishing that Class Reunion has yet to secure cult status. Certainly, all the elements are in place: laughs, oddballs, a creepy atmosphere, instantly recognizable character actors, witty dialogue, and a guy wearing a bag and a dress chasing people around with a chainsaw. I mean honestly, what the fuck more do you want?

Michael Miller had no experience in comedy prior to directing Class Reunion - up until that point, he'd toiled away in gritty, redneck-y fare like Chuck Norris skull-crusher Silent Rage (also 1982) and Tommy Lee Jones bum-out Jackson County Jail (1976). Interestingly, he never went back to funny stuff, either. He's been shooting TV drama for the past couple decades. He probably didn't think this was funny either. John Hughes must own his own island at this point. National Lampoon continued to make movies that nobody liked. They're doing it as we speak. Stephen Furst is skinny and happy. Gerrit Graham will sell you an autographed copy of Used Cars for $35.00. Misty Rowe is 56 years old at this point and is still quite bone-able.

Availability: Class Reunion is available on DVD.

Clip: the best of Dolores!

Link: Gerrit Graham official website
Link: Misty Rowe official website

-Ken McIntyre

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